Adesida chosen to be UI provost


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URBANA — The University of Illinois has chosen a noted nanotechnology scholar as its next provost.

Ilesanmi "Ade" Adesida, dean of the UI's College of Engineering, is expected to assume the post on Aug. 16, pending UI Board of Trustees approval. UI Vice President and Chancellor Phyllis Wise announced the appointment Wednesday night.

"I'm honored and humbled to be selected as provost of this great campus. This is something I take very seriously," Adesida said. "I know how to work very hard and I'm ready to roll up my sleeves and get the job done."

Adesida will be paid $430,000 annually.

The provost, who also is vice chancellor for academic affairs, reports directly to the vice president and chancellor and works in areas of budget planning and management, strategic planning and more. The provost is second in command on the campus; deans of the colleges, schools and the libraries report to the provost.

Wise praised Adesida's global experience, expertise in innovation, and leadership in public and private partnerships.

"He has an outstanding record of scholarship, a proven commitment to excellence, and an ability to successfully collaborate with colleagues at Illinois," she said in a release.

Adesida said he is looking forward to working with Wise, whom he called "a terrific administrator and a warm human being. It will be a pleasure to work with her."

"We have a new chancellor who ... is looking to the future, visioning excellence and asking where we will be in 20, 30, 40 years. That excites me. What can I do to help fulfill that vision? I want to see how we can advance this institution in service to the state, the nation and society," Adesida said.

Adesida edged out another internal finalist, Dean Ruth Watkins of the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. Wise said both Adesida and Watkins have vast experience and connections on campus, and both understand the "critical importance" of having a comprehensive university with strong humanities, social sciences, arts and sciences.

But Adesida's expertise in the sciences was crucial, given the UI's strength in STEM areas — science, math, engineering and technology, Wise said.

"It is an area in which we want to invest in very strategic ways that will end up benefiting the whole campus," she said.

"I think it was probably one of the hardest choices I've ever made in my career," Wise told The News-Gazette. "Usually there's one outstanding candidate, and several excellent ones, and in this case I think there were two outstanding ones."

Born in Nigeria, Adesida has made the UI campus his home for 25 years. He earned his undergraduate and graduate degrees in engineering from the University of California-Berkeley. He was a professor at Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University in Nigeria and Cornell University in New York before joining the UI faculty as a electrical and computer engineering professor in 1987.

A semiconductor and nanotechnology researcher, he joined the Coordinated Science Laboratory and Beckman Institute on campus. In 2005, he became director of the Micro and Nanotechnology Laboratory and served as interim dean of the College of Engineering from 2005 until 2006, when he was appointed dean.

Although he has been on campus for 25 years, Adesida said he plans to spend the next few months learning as much as he can about the campus, particularly in the humanities and social sciences areas.

He said he is looking forward to talking, listening and learning with faculty about their vision for excellence.

Because the provost is chief academic officer and chief budget officer, Adesida said one of his challenges is, "How do you align resources to match your ambitions?"

Adesida replaces Richard Wheeler, who has been in that position on an interim basis for over two years. He was appointed when then-interim Provost Robert Easter was asked to be interim chancellor following Richard Herman's resignation as chancellor. Easter, a former dean of the UI College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, was acting as interim provost after Linda Katehi left to become chancellor at the University of California-Davis.

Wheeler did not apply for the job and has said he was still thinking about what his plans will be once the new provost is named.

The provost search began in mid-December with the establishment of the search committee and the position announcement. The university hired Parker Executive Search of Atlanta for $90,000, plus expenses, to help with the search.

The third finalist was Adam Gamoran, director of the Wisconsin Center for Education Research and associate dean for research in the School of Education at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

This was the first time the campus disclosed the names of the candidates for provost. In previous hirings of top campus administrators, the names of final candidates had been kept secret. All three spoke at public forums last month.

Trustees are expected to vote on Adesida's hiring at their next meeting, May 31, in Chicago.

News-Gazette staff writer Julie Wurth contributed to this report.